Medicine Wheel refers to a large Circle of stones arranged on the ground. These have been constructed for eons and are found across the Americas. The Circle, its divisions or spokes, its alignment and associations vary by Tribe, but the overall symbolism is constant. A Medicine Wheel represents the Circle of Life. It incorporates all facets of existence and all sources of energy provided by the Creator.
The simplest of Medicine Wheels is divided with spokes representing the Four Directions. Each direction has colors, seasons and times, animals, stones and attributes associated with it.
The East is associated with yellow or red for the dawning of the Sun. It is birth and Spring in our Circle of Life. The golden eagle and the amber stone are of the East. This is the place of new beginnings, awareness, and illumination on the Medicine Wheel.
The South is represented with the colors red or green. It is midday and mid Summer, a place of warmth and growth, a time to learn and expand. Animals associated with this direction include the mouse, for its productivity, attention and organization. Coyote is another for the lessons learned through this trickster’s escapades. Catlinite is associated with the South. It is the second softest stone and carved into sacred pipes. It is usually reddish brown in color and commonly referred to as Pipestone.
The West is associated with the colors black or blue. This is twilight and Autumn on the Medicine Wheel. It is a time not only to harvest, but to also discard what is no longer needed, to let go and prepare. Introspection and healing are Western attributes. Obsidian is one of the stones associated with this direction. It is volcanic glass, and when knapped, is the sharpest blade. The carrion birds, vulture, raven and crow are animals of the West, along with the bear.
The North is white, for the snows of Winter, but also represents the dark of night. It is a time to apply what was learned and gathered through the year, to pare down to the basics and experience the stillness. The white owl and the crystal are of the North. The Medicine Wheel is a reflection of the days, seasons and of the journey of our lives. The activity and growth experienced in the morning, midday, Spring and Summer, are balanced with the preparations and applications of the evening, night, Autumn and Winter.
The center of a Medicine Wheel can vary. Some place the largest stone here and for others it is left open. The Sioux place seven stones around the center, creating a Circle within a Circle. There can be additional spokes within large Medicine Wheels. These can designate the four combined directions of Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, and Northeast. They are also placed for astronomical alignments. Two more sacred directions are included within the Medicine Wheel, Upward for the sun, moon and stars and Downward for Mother Earth. There is yet another direction recognized as sacred by many for a total of seven. This direction is Inward.
Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming is perhaps best known. It is one of up to 150 in that area of the United States and Canada. With a diameter of 80 feet, it is one of the largest and has 28 spokes and 7 cairns. A cairn is a pile of stones, and there is one in the center, with six others specifically placed around the Circle. Astronomers have identified not only solar and lunar alignments, but also alignments to stars important to the Cheyenne and Lakota People.
There are also recently constructed Medicine Wheels open to the public for use in meditation and prayer. The one at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC has a center stone, the inner circle of seven stones, and four spokes. For more information on the construction and ceremony of the Medicine Wheel, these books are recommended and referenced sources:
Buffalo Woman Comes Singing by Brooke Medicine Eagle©1991
Spirit Medicine by Wolf Moondance©1995
For additional information and a virtual tour, visit Bighorn Medicine Wheel